Voxel-based morphometry predicts shifts in dendritic spine density and morphology with auditory fear conditioning

Nat Commun. 2015 Jul 7;6:7582. doi: 10.1038/ncomms8582.


Neuroimaging has provided compelling data about the brain. Yet the underlying mechanisms of many neuroimaging techniques have not been elucidated. Here we report a voxel-based morphometry (VBM) study of Thy1-YFP mice following auditory fear conditioning complemented by confocal microscopy analysis of cortical thickness, neuronal morphometric features and nuclei size/density. Significant VBM results included the nuclei of the amygdala, the insula and the auditory cortex. There were no significant VBM changes in a control brain area. Focusing on the auditory cortex, confocal analysis showed that fear conditioning led to a significantly increased density of shorter and wider dendritic spines, while there were no spine differences in the control area. Of all the morphology metrics studied, the spine density was the only one to show significant correlation with the VBM signal. These data demonstrate that learning-induced structural changes detected by VBM may be partially explained by increases in dendritic spine density.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation*
  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Psychological*
  • Cues
  • Dendritic Spines / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Extremities
  • Fear / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology